Thoughts on Sibéal Annual Conference 2016

Suzanne McKane, Cynthia Ashraf, Sarah Clancy, Rob O’Sullivan, Abeba Birhane, and Dr. Chamindra Weerawardhana listen to a question during the roundtable discussion on Revolution and/or Social Transformations. 

Last weekend, I attended the Sibéal Revolutionary Genders 2016 Conference with my fellow Irish Writing and Film MA peer Ellen. The weekend was filled with enlightening feminist papers, panels, roundtables, and keynote speakers. From literature to science to culinary arts, this interdisciplinary weekend presented me with an abundance of information with which I could write endless blogs. However, I’ve decided to examine the events that were relevant to my dissertation research — even sometimes even in the most tangential sense — and the new ideas that I generated as a result.

Keynote: Micheline Sheehy Skeffington

 The conference was kicked off by a keynote speech from Micheline Sheehy Skeffington, who won a landmark gender discrimination case after she was not promoted as a lecturer at NUIG. Sheehy Skeffington compiled a large amount of quantitative evidence to prove that NUIG’s process of promotion was wildly unfair. Only 6.7 percent of the female candidates were promoted, while 50 percent of the male candidates were promoted. Sheehy Skeffington discovered that some of the male candidates who were promoted had not even met all of the requirements for the application, including the number of hours of class at minimum that a candidate needed to have taught. It was Sheehy Skeffington’s painstaking collection of quantitative evidence that won her case.

Sheehy Skeffington is now working to help other lecturers with their cases.

As Sheehy Skeffington told us, she comes from a long line of revolutionaries and troublemakers; she is the granddaughter of Irish nationalists Francis and Hanna Sheehy Skeffington. Since her case has been resolved favorably, she is now helping five other women sue the university. Sheehy Skeffington told us that “there is a lot of fighting left to do,” for gender equality in Ireland and the world.

The keynote speech truly reinforced my desire to include a female director in my research. I’ve thought about the lack of female directors that we have studied in the film studies course, which only reflects the reality of the industry. This is why I want to include Anjelica Huston in my dissertation instead of just focusing on her father. I feel that it is very important that academics begin bringing more diverse voices into the canon.

Enculturation of Older, Single Irish Women

 During a panel on Gender and Aging, Milyana Fusciardi from the Limerick Institute of Technology presented her paper, “Deconstructing Ms. Havisham: Does Enculturation Revolutionise or ‘Evolutionise’ Older, Single Women in Irish Society?” The paper looked at the anthropologic term enculturation, which according to Fusciardi is the “ingestion of culture, role and nationality.” In anthropologic terms, enculturation is different than socialization because the latter in intentional. Fusciardi argued that enculturation “stifles revolutionary thinking” and questioned whether older, never married, childfree women in contemporary Ireland are actually liberal because of the “invisible weight of being Irish” due to enculturalized Catholicism.

Within this framework, Fusciardi argued that in post-colonial Ireland, the older Catholic values still have had a lasting effect on the Irish psyche. Even if women choose to remain single and childfree, they still struggle with the feeling that they have failed to achieve the heteronormative plan that has been set out for them. Fusciardi’s paper made me think about Anjelica Huston’s film Agnes Browne, which is an adaptation of The Mammy by Brendan O’Carroll. In the film, Huston plays a mother of seven who has to support her children alone after her husband dies. During the course of the film, Agnes begins to date an attractive younger man and expresses the desire to have a sexual relationship simply for pleasure, not procreation. It’s interesting that Houston renamed the film Agnes Browne from The Mammy. This change in title shows that the film is about the titular character, instead of her role as a mother. However, within Fusciardi’s reading of older, single Irish women still feeling trapped by enculturation, the film is not perhaps as liberal as I first perceived. Agnes conformed to expectations — marriage and children — and was then able to live life as a single woman. It’s also worth thinking about Anjelica as an enculturated “Irish” director, unlike her father, since she spent much of her young life in Ireland and went to Irish schools.

 Migrants or Ex-Pats

 Tara McGuinness from Univeristy College Dublin presented her early research for her PhD in a paper called “White Migration: Examining Hierarchies in migration in female and male migrants in black spaces.” McGuinness is using racial social geography to explain why white people are typically called ex-patriots while non-whites are called the more loaded term “migrants” by the media. She is using Sao Paulo, Brazil as her case study, but it also made me think about how I view the Houston’s, since I am fascinated in their relationship with their identity.

Because the Houston’s were wealthy, white, Irish-Americans, they were deemed ex-pats in Ireland. This completely contrasts how other “migrants” are treated (especially now with direct provision). Do some Irish-Americans like Houston not identify as migrants when move to Ireland because they are going “home?” It will be important that I keep in mind that John Houston was viewed as an ex-pat because this implies that he felt like he was returning home rather than moving somewhere new to create an identity.

Concluding Thoughts

Interesting enough, it was the academics that work outside my areas of interest (literature and film) who inspired new ideas for my dissertation during the conference. I think sometimes I get too bogged down in researching information that directly relates to my MA. The conference taught me that if I take the time to give myself a break from Irish literature and film and expose myself to other ways of thinking, I can potentially find new sources of inspiration.

This weekend also exhibited what an academic network can be at its absolute best. People from a variety of backgrounds and areas of research came together to learn, uplift, and encourage their peers. It was invigorating to not only broaden my own understanding of feminism through interdisciplinary analysis, but to be around such a supportive community. Thank you to Ellen for telling me about this wonderful conference. I am lucky to have considerate classmates like her who bring things like this to my attention.

What the support at Sibeal felt like.

I am sure that I will continue to think about the papers and panels from Sibéal for months to come and that it will inform my own work as a researcher. I also believe it will prepare me for our mini-conference in March because I was able to take note of effective presentation methods.

Works Cited

Fusciardi, Milyana. “Deconstructing Ms. Havisham: Does Enculturation Revolutionise or   ‘Evolutionise’ Older, Single Women in Irish Society?” 18 Nov., 2016. Sibéal Annual Conference, National University of Ireland Galway, Ireland.

Giphy. “Simpsons World.” 22 April, 2016, http://giphy.com/gifs/season-14-the-simpsons-14×6-3orif9IBqWPR7QVnlS

McGuinness, Tara. “White Migration: Examining Hierarchies in migration in female and male migrants in black spaces.” 19 Nov., 2016. Sibéal Annual Conference, National University of Ireland Galway, Ireland.

O’Shaughnessy, Joe. “Micheline Sheehy Skeffington (fourth from left) at NUI Galway yesterday with, from left: Dr Margaret Hodgins, Dr Adrienne Gorman, Dr Elizabeth Tilley, Dr Sylvie Lannegrand and Dr Roisin Healey.” The Irish Times, 5 Dec. 2014, http://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/sheehy-skeffington-to-use-equality-award-to-help-colleagues-1.2026290

Sheey Skeffington, Micheline. “Keynote Speech.” 18 Nov., 2016. Sibéal Annual Conference, National University of Ireland Galway, Ireland.

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2 thoughts on “Thoughts on Sibéal Annual Conference 2016

  1. A great post – I’ve never been to Sibeal, which is a terrible gap in my conference attendance. This post makes me more determined to attend the next one.

    Liked by 1 person

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